cognitive coaching

Ways that Teachers Think about and Use Time in the Classroom

Teaching holds the tension between certainty and ambiguity. When teachers plan units and lessons, we draw upon our craft knowledge to design a series of experiences with logic, flow, coherence, and outcomes, to name a few aspects. And teaching is ambiguous at the same time because in the course of a lesson, students respond in individual ways. In the tension of both certainty and ambiguity, teachers are always considering time.

Costa and Garmston (2013) name a few ways that teachers think about time. We understand that these ways also represent how time dimensions impact the teacher’s thinking while teaching.


The authors define this time dimension as the order in which a teacher decides how instruction will proceed. When we plan lessons, we often deliberately question what should happen first, then next and next, in order to shape and direct what we intend students to know, understand and be able to do. We look at short-range planning such as within a unit of inquiry, and we also design the long-term planning such as in a yearlong overview, or an entire program of inquiry.

Because we think deeply about factors like student readiness and developmental progression of cognitive processes such as concept formation and ability to think abstractly, sequence is an important dimension of time for teachers.


The Twitterchat on Approaches to Teaching and Learning brought the idea that the multiple dimensions of a school program are braided. (During the chat, we discussed that ‘woven’ was not as precise a term for our program intentions as ‘braided.’ In braids, we can see the strands and interconnections more clearly, and each strand in the braid remains distinct; whereas in a weave, it is difficult to see individual strands and their distinct identities and forms.) In may ways, a lesson is braided in that we are constantly, at the same time, holding on to different layers of learning – the content, concepts, context(s) and construct as it applies to our plans and as it applies to each learner’s experience.

The dimension of simultaneity in the classroom is described by Costa and Garmston (2013) as the ability of the teacher to hold many layers of conscious intentions at the same time. For example, in any given unit of inquiry, a teacher might keep in mind the learning target for the particular lesson, while also being mindful of the conceptual framework; the content that best unpacks and illustrates the conceptual focus; the skills that are targeted for the unit; when to rehearse; the different entry points and pathways individual students might choose to take toward understanding; and a myriad of other, equally important learning events happening at the same time.

Dimensions of Metacognition

Metacognition is a person’s capacity to “stand outside themselves” (Costa and Garmston, 2013, p. 143) and hold at least two threads of thinking at the same time: the thinking that follows the logic and flow of the intended learning experience and all that the teacher does to make it happen, as well as the thinking about his or her words and actions and thinking as he or she facilitates the learning. Teachers who are metacognitive thinkers and emotionally intelligent, for instance, constantly read the learners in the room. They take in the nonverbal cues from students and adjust accordingly. They are always making careful and attentive observations and choose congruent behaviors to either slow down, speed up, pause for rehearsal, and other instructional decisions that arise form their own metacognition.

Metacognition is an additional source of time dimensions because of lesson factors such as pace, self-correction, pedagogical prioritizing, and reflection.


Pace is an important part of metacognition. Assessing the environment and the students’ responses in light of the learning targets and the process among other factors pose questions like whether the teacher should go faster or slow down, when to pause and reteach in different ways, and how to support students who have already learned the material, students who need more time or ways to access it, and all the conditions in between.


An effective teacher uses his or her metacognitive thinking to discern a complex set of influences on their instruction. For instance, she might ask questions like:

  • How does my own set of learning preferences and strengths hinder my understanding of how my students might experience the lesson?
  • Do I understand how they struggle with concepts I naturally grasped when I was their grade level?
  • What big ideas are we touching on? What universal, human contexts might they anchor this concept to?
  • How do I know each student grasps the concept?
  • Are my students gaining a better understanding of how context frames their learning? Can they shift perspective?

Teachers self-correct based on thousands of different data points they glean from the environment, including their reading of the learners in the room. This self-correction is a series of time decisions because what’s important to the learners does take more time, take less time, and/or repurposes the time allocated for lessons.

Pedagogical priorities

Teachers have a wide range of instructional strategies that they might call upon in planning and also implement during ‘teachable moments’ that emerge from classroom events. When teachers have to shift instruction suddenly due to cues from how the learners are responding and events in the classroom, the prioritizing that happens results in somewhat different uses of time than what might have been previously planned.

Flexible teachers recognize that learning is not one-size-fits-all, and the priorities he or she decided upon might change due to previous learning or levels of readiness in the students.

The craftsman-like teacher is continually learning to expand their quiver of instructional strategies to address the many ways students can meet learning targets.


Reflection is understood to be looking back at self. Teachers who use time to reflect on practice generally are self-directed learners. They self-monitor, self-modify and self-manage (Costa and Garmston, 2013).

When teachers reflect about a lesson or unit, they are essentially taking time to self-assess whether their intentions (learning targets or objectives) align with the outcomes (assessment of learning).

Often, reflection is done after an event, such as a lesson or after having taught a unit. Reflection is metacognitive thinking in that it can also happen at the moment of action. This type of reflection might be akin to mindfulness because using metacognitive thinking, a person can “know intentions and choose congruent behaviors” (Costa and Garmston).

Reflection can greatly impact the efficiency of instruction as it might yield a panoramic consciousness of all that schools do (Dufour and Dufour, 1998).

  • What will our students learn?
  • How do we know they are learning?
  • How will we respond when they are not learning?
  • How will we respond when they already know it?

The many ways that teachers have to consider time and its dimensions in the classroom is complex, adaptive work.



Photo Credit:
Monarch emerging from coccoon By Seney Natural History Association – A Monarch Emerging from Cocoon, CC BY-SA 2.0


Dufour, R. and Eaker, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Costa A. and Garmston, R. (2013). Cognitive Coaching; Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

What a Teacher Leaves Behind

For Bill Powell, gone so soon

On the Adriatic Sea in the summertime the light on the water is like diamonds at midday. Without shadows the clean blue hues’ incessant sparkling hits the eye and may elicit tears.

We lost someone recently, someone who has worked with teachers and schools to support generations of self-directed learners, people who believe in others and believe in themselves. This writing will not capture all that he was; to know Bill Powell you have to know all the other people whom he has valued in his life as a teacher, administrator, mentor, and friend. I was fortunate to have known Bill. Conversations with Bill over the years have taught much long after I left the cognitive spaces we shared.

Lessons from conversations with Bill now eddy and flow within, this sea on which I float tinged with sadness , and the coordinates of my destinations made clear by the lessons’ resonance within. Fragments from T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, Bill’s favorite poet, and one of his favorite poems, appear like driftwood. I pick them up and show them to you.

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Help people learn, and not by evaluating them.

In their book Teacher self-supervision: Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it, Bill and Ochan Powell comment, The distressing truth is that no one can compel learning in another person.

We expound on the value of self-directedness, and we search for ways to create the environment and processes which allow our students to go after learning through inquiry; to self-monitor and self-modify as they self-assess through reflection. Yet in many of our schools, we still subscribe to teacher evaluation systems, giving teachers external judgments of practice and expecting that this external judgment will ignite the inspiration, motivation and empowerment necessary to transform the thinking that goes into creating environments and processes which will facilitate learning for both the teacher and his or her students.

In external, judgment-based feedback within teacher evaluation systems, there is

Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time

Learning comes from choice, a self-directed turning of mind toward something that inspires and presents an anticipation and pursuit of something meaningful. This turning of the mind is what we desire in our students as we provoke thinking in the classroom, as we give our students their heads, as we remove the reins and yokes of our own choices of canonical content, and allow our charges to chase after learning because it is meaningful to them.

Self-evaluation for adults is just as important as we deem it is for our students through reflection. The leap we make between the environments and processes we create that allow for self-directed learning is made with an assumption, a positive presupposition that people generally want to get better at what they do.

People want to learn to get better at what they do. This optimism is borne from a personal choice, a choice to honestly self-evaluate, to let go of the fixed mindsets perhaps learnt through experiences, and to become open to growth. It requires humility to reach this peak of wisdom, for

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility; humility is endless.

The optimism of wanting and going after growth is endless in its reach, for it creates a world of what is possible—what is possible after all in a classroom is gifted by the diversity of individuals with whom a teacher has the privilege to spend an entire school year. The optimism blooms in our practice as teachers when we embrace the wonderful diversity of people in our care. As many different learners as we have in our classrooms, we receive with each one the gift of becoming a better teacher of each, and

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started
And know the place for the first time.

In the ways we discover how each person learns, we grow as teachers. Beginning with this assumption that teachers want to get better at what they do, we are on our way to creating environments and processes, which allow for self-directed learning for adults and young learners alike.

We open the gates of consciousness to improve our craftsmanship and flexibility as teachers. Awareness is the mother of other states of mind.

To arrive at where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.

The birth of awareness began with excavation for me. I had always thought, for instance, that I was a good listener. Until I learned, that first Cognitive CoachingSM  seminar with Bill and Ochan, that I listened primarily so I could solve things for whomever was speaking with me.

Spending the last five years digging through the debris of old layers of self– those layers of being which in conversations did not help but rather hindered growth for the other and then discarding the layers of ineffective listening like so much sloughed off skin—has expanded consciousness and increased other resources of mind.

I learned that

In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

In a teacher, consciousness reaches realms of being that embrace balance. Looping through the infinite balancing of polarities between rigor and inclusiveness, for instance. The flexibility of thinking that allows for polarities to co-exist, simultaneously, helps the teacher to recognize and address the experiences and reality of each learner. Each one has a claim on rigor. Each one has a claim on being included as he or she is, and the trajectories that each might traverse is not the teacher’s experiences and reality. We learn that we cannot teach the way we learn; we humbly accept that we must listen more than we speak, and that each learner may instruct the instructor on how learning can happen.

And in another instance, holding on one palm the delicate, complex self of a person and in another, her goal orientation, listening only in order to value both, and in the discipline of complete attentiveness, convey the person to a state of resourcefulness. In this disciplined attentiveness, one is fully present but also absent. Attentive to the other and detached from self. In this I learned to be less so the other might be more.

As Bill used to say, “I have more friends now.”

Be deliberate.

To learn, to teach, to live with self-directedness, one needs to be deliberate. One can be deliberate with choice of words and choices of silence in a conversation for the purpose of conveying the other to a more desirable state of mind. Speech is more poetic than might be previously thought, when we consider that our pauses allow for deep thought to occur, and are meaningful parts of messages we send to others.

In the deliberate use of silence as of words, we command our attentiveness and perhaps sidestep the chasms of miscommunication that endanger our relationships, and we summon the thinking that allows bridges to build across minds. We may avoid

Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the one thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

The discipline of thought, that being deliberate requires, cradles the positive presuppositions that value another.

There is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

We are not the same people today as we were yesterday.

Every day is the day of a phoenix. Our interactions, our conversations change us as they change our thinking. If we are fortunate, we will meet someone who inspires trust, and we choose to learn from and with this person. We can become open-minded to the possibility that any other we meet and interact with is a teacher and a mentor outside of the choreography of a formal workshop or course; we sit at the table and dine with those who teach through conversation.

And this changes us. When we choose to learn, we transform. And if we choose this every day, we eschew a static self. We sleep and awaken new people.

You are not the same people that left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think “the past is finished”
Or “the future is before us.”

For most of us there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction of it, lost in a shaft of sunlight.

Every one has value.

I walk through places where systems have failed its citizens, and the faces floating past mine are sometimes so easily moved to contempt. It is not easy to be in places where many have been disillusioned by decades of communal, enculturated mistrust, and hence closed to learning from someone who might present novel ways of being.

Yet in the dim light I am reminded that context is a persistent and damning comfort; context holds people in its clutches and perhaps it is difficult to see how to let it let go when context has not presented any other possible existence than what is known.

I forgive context, and I dig deep within the discipline of attentiveness to find positive presuppositions: we protect what we know because it helps us to feel safe.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiousity
Or carry report.

The person, after all, is what matters. Deep within the layers of who we might be because of where we are, we are oceans of humanity, deep and layered with tempers, battered by storms, calmed by movements of moons and other, more intangible forces.

We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
Or of an ocean not littered with wastage
Or of a future that is not liable
Like the past, to have no destination.

We cannot think of “Not making a trip that will be unpayable/For a haul that will not bear examination.”

In the optimism and discipline of attentiveness to others, we listen for their footfalls across the tundra they might have to traverse to find the thought that renders them open to growth. We paraphrase their words to illuminate their own thinking; we pause and give them deliberate time to envision ways forward.

And we must do this because it is about learning. Life is about the shift from that undesirable state of walking the endless loop of suffering, to a state of being ingenious within ourselves, and that capacity is the ongoing conversation with self that we are all privileged to enter.

I must say goodbye to the man, but not to the mentor. His legacy continues in the work of so many colleagues all over the world, whom like I did, had productive conversations with Bill.

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.



Eliot, T. S. Four Quartets. Retrieved from on July 11, 2016.

Powell, W. and Kusuma Powell, O. (2015.) Teacher self-supervision: Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it. Melton, Woodbridge: John Catt.